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Help Me Catch up on David Chang/Momofuku

I missed out on David Chang entirely. He opened Momofuku in 2003, right when running Chowhound became fully overwhelming (the tale: http://jimleff.blogspot.com/2008/12/c... ) and I started losing touch.

At this point, catching up seems daunting. But everyone's always asking me my opinion re: the Momofuku empire. So I ask this favor: to help jump start me, can someone tell me where and when to go, and what to order? So I can experience something so reliably dead-on emblematic of whatever it is he's about that a light bulb will click on and I'll be inspired to dive into wholehearted exploration?

If you believe his places are overrated or downhill, that's cool, but not appropriate for this thread. Rather, I'd like very simple instructions from true believers. Pick one restaurant, one meal, and the optimum time/way to attend with a minimum of waiting/groveling/speed dialing.

Thanks...

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  1. I'm far from a MomoExpert but the BLT pork bun won me over (not just for Chang, but for crispy pork belly itself), and got me to look beyond the hype.

    I believe the pork buns were his breakthrough dish that caused a stir, with food blogs trying to replicate them at home, and that kind of thing. I think it's a good introductory.

    I'd suggest stopping by Momofuko Ssam Bar as a walk in for lunch to try them. It should be pretty empty/casual and you can sit at the bar.

    You can take a glance at the Milk Bar across the street after, and see if anything jumps out at you. If you're not up on the Milk Bar, it's a polarizing place, but for the sake of food literacy, you can sample the compost cookie, and the crack pie. There is of course the corn flake milk soft serve you should probably sample. The best item they make is the Stollen at Christmas, but that doesn't help you in Summer. There may be some hidden gems amongst the pound cakes, and croissant type items slowly being added.

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    Momofuku Ssam Bar
    207 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

    Momofuku Milk Bar
    251 E 13th St, New York, NY 10003

    2 Replies
    1. re: sugartoof

      I don't think Ssam Bar is open for lunch anymore. Lunch is served in the old Milk Bar space and the menu is very limited (the duck is good but not what Jim is looking to experience).

      Jim, you should go to Ssam Bar for dinner - go early to avoid the crowd/noise/scene. They don't take reservations. The food is very good. Sit at the bar. Go with someone so you can taste a lot of stuff.

      But this will not give you the ability to offer an opinion on "the Momofuku empire." This will give you a taste of one restaurant.

      1. re: gutsofsteel

        Ssam Bar is open for lunch. On the weekdays there is a shorter duck-focused menu. You order at the register, get a number, and can sit either in the old Milk Bar space or in the Ssam space (they are connected via a hallway).

        On the weekends, they have a more extensive menu that is closer to the dinner menu, but not the full dinner menu.

        http://www.momofuku.com/restaurants/s...

    2. ssam bar all the way. people overblow the wait and the crowd, it's rarely a long wait . the pork buns of course, ask what's off menu, the bread with lardo is delicious, i like the apple kimchi, can't think of anything bad i've had there.

      2 Replies
      1. re: thew

        Apple kimchi is a fall menu item, though, and isn't offered right now, but will be in a few months.

        1. re: thew

          I agree w/ everything thew wrote - definitely dinner at Ssam bar, order pork buns and whatever else that catches your eye, and enjoy.

          I've been to every David Chang place except for Ko (probably won't happen - husband is more into French-style fine dining, no way he would choose Ko over EMP, etc.) and while I don't consider myself a fanatic, I generally like his place. Pork and vegetables are not my favorite, yet he's always found a way to make them delicious for me. And the music's always awesome - it's not everyday where you can listen to Joy Divison and Stone Roses while munching on some of best food in NYC.

        2. A dinner at Momofuku Ko was what sold me on David Chang. I think it best highlights his strengths as a chef, in terms of both creativity and execution, and shows the full range of what he can do.

          Dishes at Ssam Bar, which I'd had long before I went to Ko for the first time, are usually relatively simple preparations. They show off the kitchen's attention to detail because many dishes are simple AND extremely well made. But they are dishes that you might be able to pull off at home if you source fantastic ingredients and know how to not mess them up.

          I guess where you should go depends not just on obvious budget concerns (Ko is a lot more expensive), but on what kind of food bedazzles you. I love a seriously good burger, for instance, but I have to admit that even the best made burger probably won't ever make my jaw drop in the same way that really well done, creative, unusual dish can. Ko does creative, interesting food and it does it well.

          As for the others:

          - Ma Peche at dinnertime seems to me spiritually more similar to Ko than the other Chang establishments. But I don't think Ma Peche is as innovative or perfectly executed as Ko, since the amt of attn the kitchen can pay is dispersed among many more diners and dishes. It's also not as fun as Ko if you like to watch the chefs at work.

          - I know opinion is divided, but Milk Bar's very, very sweet desserts are just not my thing. To me, they are cloying. I can see how some might find them charming for the nostalgia they can evoke, though.

          (I should probably leave Noodle Bar opinions to others, since I've never actually had the noodles, there, only other dishes.)

          The online reservation system -- the only way to reserve, I think -- is a mild pain in the ars, but there are openings at Ko at reasonable times these days and you won't have to grovel in front of a human, just your computer.

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          Momofuku Ko
          163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

          Ma Peche
          15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

          1 Reply
          1. re: michelleats

            Agreed. Start at the top, Momofuku Ko.

            Or start at the beginning, Noodle Bar, and have the pork buns and the spicy fried chicken ramen. Then try the crack pie and cereal milk soft serve at Milk Bar.

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            Momofuku Noodle Bar
            171 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

            Momofuku Ko
            163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

          2. While I love all of the Momofuku restaurants, my two favorites are Ko and Ma Peche. Started going to Ko three years ago, and was amazed by the creativity and delicious food served in a casual and friendly environment. The frozen shaved foie gras over lychee and pinenut brittle and Riesling gelee is amazing (served at both lunch and dinner). The soft cooked egg with onion subise, hackleback caviar and fingerling potato chips keeps me returning regularly for dinner (this dish is not on the lunch menu :-( ).

            I would highly recommend you start you Momofuku experience with Ko (the online reservation system is not that difficult). Dinner is two hours, and lunch is three hours.

            Ma Peche, which is two blocks from my office--lucky me!--serves delicious and creative French-Vietnamese cuisine. I had dinner at Ma Peche last evening, and the pea soup with the shrimp was brilliant (and I normally don't care for peas). The foie gras terrine with the foie gras stuffed prunes was as good as any foie gras preparation I've had at any 4 star restaurant. Ma Peche is now serving "real" dessert at the table, and the chocolate/coffee/coconut/Thai basil dessert was a winner--looks like a dense chocolate bar, but the other flavors mix perfectly with the chocolate. Also casual and friendly environment. The steak frites has been on their menu since their opening, and is another of my favorites. The rice fries that accompany the steak are addictive. Ma Peche is primarily a "walk-in" restaurant, but they also take reservations via the Momofuku online reservation system, and are now taking phone reservations.

            Also love the pork buns that are available at both Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar. The Fried Chicken large-format dinner at Noodle Bar is wonderful, but bring 5 hungry friends! The Fried Chicken needs to be reserved ahead of time also on the Momofuku reservation system.

            I'm trying the whole rotisserie duck next week at Ssam Bar, and will report back. This also needs a reservation.

            I'm a fan of Milk Bar too. I love sweets, and adore the Crack Pie. I've become a fairly recent convert to the Compost Cookie--love the mix of sweet and savory. I'm sorry to report that I'm not that crazy about the Cereal Milk soft serve, but others on this board love it. The corn cookie, the chocolate chip/cornflake/marshmallow cookie and the blueberry cream cookie are also favorites of mine.

            Jim, it's great to see you back on this board! I know I've given you more information than you had requested, but it was impossible for me to pick one restaurant. Hope you start you Momofuku journey soon, and I'll look forward to your report.

            -----
            Ma Peche
            15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

            1 Reply
            1. re: ellenost

              "Jim, it's great to see you back on this board!"

              Thanks, I appreciate the sentiment, I really do, but people keep welcoming me back to Chowhound and I NEVER STOPPED POSTING! See my profile page! Tons of posts! LOL!

              I'm gonna develop a complex! :)

              And thanks for the great, useful posting. I didn't expect too many people to seriously recommend one single meal. That's just not how it works, I know....

            2. Noodlebar has the worst ramen in NY, fried chicken dinner is fun, but rather eat the fried chicken at Brooklyn Bowl and UFC.
              Ko is okay, I rather spend my money elsewhere for fine dining
              Ssam is great, never had a bad meal there
              Milkbar is hit or miss, but lately more misses since they stopped serving cakes by the slice and shrinking their operations and doing the baking off site. Cereal milk softserve is amazing.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Ricky

                Agree that the Noodlebar's ramen is a let down.

                For me, in order "to catch up on David Chang/Momofuku", the first order of business is the Ssam Bar. It's truly great.

              2. All great stuff, everyone...every single posting. I'll absorb, decide, eat, and report back.

                1 Reply
                1. IMO, these are the "signature"/most famous dishes at each (usually on the menu regardless of season):

                  Noodle Bar - Momofuku ramen (though many ramen-philes are not fans), steamed pork buns, ginger scallion noodles, fried chicken group dinner

                  Ssam Bar - Pickle plate, steamed pork buns, country hams, pork sausage & rice cakes, Bo ssam pork shoulder group dinner. I would say the apple kimchi is a signature dish too but it's usually available only in the fall.

                  The new BRT/BAR bun might be considered a new signature dish. I've seen it as a recurring daily special. Pressed belly, radish, tomato, with smoked mayo in the summer and belly, avocado, radish when tomatoes are out of season.

                  Ko - Coddled egg with soubise onions, caviar, potato chips and the shaved frozen foie gras with riesling Jelly, lychee, and pinenuts. Both available of course only on the tasting menu.

                  Ma Peche - I'm not as well versed here but I've say that the steak frites, banh mi (lunch/bar menu only), or ribs (bar menu only) might be considered signature items. The summer rolls, beef tartare, vegetable side dishes, and pork chop also seem to be mainstays of the dinner menu.

                  Milk Bar - Crack pie, cereal milk, cereal milk soft serve, compost cookie. These are the most talked about items. A lot of CHers note that the pies/cookies can be very sweet.

                  -----
                  Ma Peche
                  15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: kathryn

                    Don't go to Ko on your first shot, It's quiet and very precious - it might turn you off...

                    Go to Ssam to start, but don't go early - go late... the place has vibe and energy and only gets better as the night gets later. Frankly, I love that it is loud and crowed - I like the music they play. Its like when some folks here complain that music is loud at Babbo and it turns them off - well I love that, that what it sounds like when you walk in my apartment....And the food, well, I think all the attention and praise chang receive is earned - see for yourself....

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                    Babbo
                    110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

                    1. re: Hot Tub Johnny

                      I think that the pork chop for 2 at Ma Peche is very good. I prefer it to the steak frites.

                      The pork buns are indeed incredible. I had high expectations due to all of the hype but they delivered. I like the fact that they seem to always give you one fattier bun and one that is more lean.

                      If they have it at Milk Bar the asparagus salad with pickled ramps, peekytoe crab and lemon was incredible and refreshing on a hot day.

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                      Ma Peche
                      15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

                  2. The pork buns are a signature dish for a reason - they are great. They tend to vary according the actual pork belly that they come from, some are more fatty and flavorful than others. I like the tamales at noodle bar, especially the chicken and pork. They are made with the rendered fat that's a product of the restaurant's pork dishes. The ssam bar's rotisserie duck lunch is a perfect dish with the pancakes and lettuce, a welcome recent addition, and more affordable than Ssam's other menus. I also love the bo ssam but couldn't eat it too often. I like many of the milk bar's products - the pastrami croissant and the cakes and cookies, but miss being able to buy one slice of cake. Their holiday stollen is wonderful. I've had one dinner at Ko and loved it. It was one of the most memorable meals I've had, but for everyday eating I'm more likely to run to Noodle Bar. The staff has been uniformly nice at all of the restaurants - professional and personable, but not sucking up or angling for tips.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: hungrycomposer

                      Those tamales sound wonderful! So many places in NYC now make them with flavorless shortening, but good lard really makes a difference. I'll have to look out for these. Thanks for the tip.

                    2. This may be too late to be helpful, but in case it's not... As others have said here, for one single dish that sums up the momofuku empire, I'd say it's definitely the pork buns. They're a signature dish, they're truly great - and they also incorporate a lot of elements of his style (simple "fast" food, loud flavors, serious love of pork). Ko was one of my favorite meals ever, but I don't think it's the best representative of Chang's style.

                      What I actually wrote in to add to this conversation though is that as far as "catching up" goes - I would actually recommend checking out the cookbook. It covers all the restaurants, with some interesting and entertaining (depending on your own feelings about Chang's admittedly agressive personality) behind-the-scenes info about their creation and menus. It also has recipes for a lot of the more famous dishes at each restaurant.

                      1. One of the things I notice about Ssam Bar every time I go is that it's run by kids (says this 47 year old). Most of the people running the show appear to be in their 20s or 30s. I love that such great food and this great experience are being produced by such energized young folk!

                        1. I find it odd to post a question and specify that any negative comments about the restaurants are not appropriate for the thread. for example, if people think his restaurants are awful (as i do), why get hyped up only by "true believers" before you go? Sounds like recipe for disappointment.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Simon

                            I think Jim is well aware that some people don't like the Momofuku restaurants and/or David Chang. I understood his post to simply request those of us who do like the restaurants to post about our favorite dishes at our favorite restaurant. Seems like a simple request.